Canning food is one of those skills I’ve always known to be useful, but I’ve never learned how to do it. This domestic art can seem intimidating; there’s a learning curve, safety guidelines, and special equipment, and every once in a while I hear about botulism scares. The idea of canning is especially daunting if you don’t have a wise and experienced friend or relative to help you through the process.
But this is the year. In 2018, I resolve to learn how to can food.
I’ve been thinking about buckling down and attempting canning for years. Then over the holidays, I read activist farmer Joel Salatin’s Folks, This Ain’t Normal, and it gave me the final push I needed. In this book, Salatin talks about how far removed we are from where our food comes from. (Salatin, by the way, is my dad’s cousin, and his farm has an open-door policy and is a treat to visit if you are in Virginia.)
Salatin expressed concern that many people are disconnected from how their food is produced, often taking for granted that we can simply walk into a grocery store and pluck a ready-to-eat can or box from a shelf. We don’t often give much thought to what it took to produce that food before it reached the store shelves. Many people have little to no knowledge of basic food production such as how to grow a garden, how to butcher and cut up a chicken, how to cook using whole and unprocessed ingredients, or how to preserve food.
If something apocalyptic were to happen to our society and we didn’t have food readily available in stores, many of us would be helpless. I’m not a prepper, but it makes sense that we should have some basic knowledge of how to grow, raise, and preserve our food. Also, I already preserve fresh produce, meat, and other food in our basement deep freezer, but that means I’m dependent on electricity to keep the freezer cold. I’m one severe thunderstorm or ice storm away from potentially losing my freezer stockpile, depending on how long the power might be out. The advantage to canning is that the finished product can simply be stored on a pantry or basement shelf. No worries.
I’ve already taken baby steps toward canning. For several years, I’ve made freezer jam with strawberries I picked from a local farm or purchased at a small family-owned produce shop near my home. Freezer jam is easy. You mix up a few ingredients to make the jam, ladle it into freezer-safe jars or other containers, and put it all in the freezer, taking a jar out whenever you need one. No hot water baths or pressure cooking required.
But now I’m ready to do the real thing, hot water and pressure cooking and all. During these winter months I’m going to educate myself and acquire supplies. I’m going to check out books from my trusty public library, and maybe I’ll consult my nonagenarian grandma or my mother-in law. Come summer, I hope to be ready to preserve at least a little bit of the bounty of the season.
I will start with something simple like green beans from the annual bounty my garden produces. I like green beans because they grow easily and produce reliably, and I can plant them closely spaced in my garden and in containers on my patio, thus maximizing my harvest. Green beans are the ultimate non-fussy home garden veggie as long as I provide a little protection from the local rabbits who like to nibble their leaves down to the stems.
Beyond green beans, if things go well, I might learn how to can other foods — tomatoes, peaches, salsa, pickles! However, I’m giving myself permission to start small. Green beans it is.
I’ll post here later about my experience. Here we go. Wish me luck.